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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Dangers on the street

The courts are right in laying down traffic rules

Written by Bhawesh Mishra |
April 10, 2007 2:59:43 am

It’s not surprising that people rarely stop to attend to an injured person on our roads, given that everyone seems to drive with a death wish. It’s just a matter of luck who hits or gets hit. Our big cities have begun aspiring to a status that’s close to those in first world cities but its people are not prepared to play by the rules that govern big cities the world over.

A court here recently raised penalties on traffic offences by a hefty margin, partly to account for inflation. It also spelt out a few new rules, like smoking while driving will now be a violation. The court is known to do things to “improve” the lives of the city’s citizens — from school admissions to garbage disposal. It attracts unkind words for such activism. But why does it have to do the executive’s job? Because the executive doesn’t. Then does it all make for a nanny state? No, it doesn’t. Because a nanny state is where the government lays down rules of public conduct including in areas that have no relation to safety or welfare.

When the I&B ministry bans a TV channel, it’s a nanny act. When a court tells people to drive in lanes, it’s a sad declaration of how the government is failing to do its bit. In Delhi’s case, one almost wishes it was a nanny state, given the government’s utter inability in framing and enforcing laws that will make the metropolis a better city than it is — 148th in the world with 5 road deaths a day. You need to drive just a kilometre to know why the courts have to be so embarrassingly interventionist.

Our city driver is a person who is innocent and murderous at the same time. He is so childlike, he does not know he should not honk at a pedestrian or another car at a traffic light. He is so free of a sense of life’s fragility, he fails to realise that not driving in a lane could kill him or the driver going past him. Does he honk like a circus clown because he is dying to get ahead of everyone else? Yes, but not always. He thinks it is a way to ensure the safety of others by reminding them of his approach. So how does the West have so few accidents without anyone honking? The West follows every rule of road safety, including not smoking while driving, except the one most Indians zealously do — honking.

The next time you see a car coming from your left and pushing you into the road divider to get ahead of you, do not assume the pilot is a call-centre cabby, because it could be the call-centre executive who just returned from a three-month training in Houston and plans to settle down in the US one day.

Until then, he will honk, grunt and swear in keeping with the city’s anthem.

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